The Prosapia Project is retooling the technology used for storing, gathering, processing and analyzing genealogical data. Nearly any ecosystem where data is held by a diverse number of participants can benefit from using a blockchain to aggregate the data. The first step of the Prosapia project is building an incentive based decentralized data commons for genealogical data.
Genealogy is the study of family history, or the tracing of a person’s lineage through history. According to Time and USA Today, genealogy is the second-most popular hobby in the United States and has a global community which is several times larger. Individual motivations vary, however the pursuit of family origins generally springs from one of the following: 1) the desire to place one family in the larger historical context, 2) a feeling of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and 3) a sense of fulfillment in sharing a communal story. There are millions, if not billions, of people participating in a global effort dedicated to remembering the collective human story. But for these efforts to bear fruit, we need social coordination in order to work together to gather and curate the data into a commons.
The greatest obstacle faced by the genealogical community is in accessing accurate, curated data. Family history information is scattered amongst innumerable repositories, many of which are highly siloed. Everything from organized religions (usually held locally by parishes or churches), governments (local, state and national agencies), public societies, private organizations and even individual attics and cellars. Given how difficult it is to access such a distributed knowledge base, we expect that only a very small portion of the data is accessible to the public. What has been collected thus far is largely due to herculean efforts made by independent groups and individuals to bring this information to light.
The internet provided a tremendous boost to genealogists around the world as it opened new avenues for the sharing of data. This has led to massive efforts in manually digitizing genealogical information in order to expand our collective knowledge of the past. It also paved the way for the emergence of interactive web based genealogical platforms such as FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com and 23andMe. These platforms provide a collection of services, but one of their primary benefits comes from their efforts to aggregate data. Fortunately, many of these platforms have signed sharing agreements which greatly benefit individuals in searching records across multiple databases. However, the majority of data in existence still remains outside of these repositories and is inaccessible to the general public.
Given that the collection and aggregation of genealogical data is largely a decentralized (distributed) process, wouldn’t it make sense to marry this with a decentralized/distributed database? In other words, records of our ancestors should be stored on a decentralized platform (owned by everyone) which logically organizes the data into a single data store (a data commons). In this way, participants can upload their records while still being responsible custodians and without abdicating their ownership. However, anyone/everyone can still participate in the sharing and curation of the database because of the blockchain structure. After all, the human story shouldn’t be owned by any one entity but collectively shared since we all have a stake in our history. In fact, nature’s model of organizing humansinto families is itself, decentralized.
We call this Project Prosapia:
Create a shared resource (database) which is collectively owned by everyone.
Utilize new advances in Information theory and Data science to process genealogical data.
Create an interface capable of displaying all the data in a way that is easier for the general public to use and benefit from.
Prosapia proposes a network and shared industry protocol with standards for how deceased individuals are identified and registered on the blockchain. This will provide the foundation for sharing databases which otherwise will remain restricted and disconnected from general consumption. At its core, Prosapia is a social coordination platform with a shared data layer that is maintained and audited by the participants in the network. The goal is to create a shared foundation on which the community can build additional data analytics and applications while not compromising the data authenticity or ownership of the underlying custodians. We believe that this will usher in a new paradigm of growth and allow the sharing of isolated data repositories otherwise impossible to access. It will also make it possible for much smaller organizations/individuals to make meaningful contributions.
The platform needs to do:
Incentivize organizations, corporations and individuals to add and curate data
Provide for data persistence and immutability
Protect the privacy of the living and respect for the dead
Be flexible to allow for multiple interpretations and instantiations of the past (i.e. duplicates)
Be market based (Reward skin in the game)
There is a lot to unpack in the above statements especially around platform design, incentives, and network participation. Our plan is to gather key industry stakeholders and work together with them to define these standards. The intention is to publish the design specifications in the Prosapia White Paper and move forward to build and implement the protocol. Blockchains depend on well designed incentives for collaboration in maintaining and securing the network/database, so this needs to be a team effort from the beginning.